Artist Duane Slick often works in monochromatic shadow and light. His use of color is purposeful, but can be fleeting, like the elusive coyote “trickster,” an archetypal figure in tribal folklore that is often found — sometimes hiding in plain sight — in his paintings.
“I decided a long time ago that I’m not a colorist. I’m more interested in drawing and paintings that have strong graphic sensibility. I’m more interested in building a kind of architecture within a painting,” said Slick, a Native American painter.
A Waterloo native and graduate of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Slick is a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. He has been selected to exhibit his work in the inaugural exhibition of K Art, the nation’s first and only Native-owned commercial art gallery opening in Buffalo, N.Y., on Dec. 11. The gallery’s primary focus is elevating contemporary Native artists who have typically been under-represented, marginalized and stereotyped.
Slick is a member of the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa through his father, and through his mother, the Ho-Chunk Nation in Nebraska. He is a self-professed story teller, using canvas, a brush and paint to relate stories of heritage, history, life and tragedy through layers of paint. He seeks to explore and engage “certain issues of Native identity through references that aren’t Meskwaki or Ho-Chunk and not specific to a tribe, but more at the level of cultural engagement,” Slick explained.
His work is represented in galleries, collections and exhibitions throughout the United States. Just prior to outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian purchased some of Slick’s work and mounted an exhibition surveying 25 years of contemporary native art in painting.
“I was in the pantheon. I saw the exhibition and I realized, ‘There you are, with all your heroes,’” Slick said, marveling at the experience. “It’s interesting because I have run into some younger native artists and done some shows with younger artists who are very aware of my work, of what I am doing.”
Slick has been on the faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design for 25 years. He also has taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and is a frequent lecturer on native art.
He received a bachelor of fine arts in painting and a bachelor of arts in art education from UNI, and his master of fine arts in painting from the University of California, Davis. His awards and honors are numerous, including the Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art. In 2010, the UNI Gallery of Art mounted an exhibition of Slick’s work, “The Untraceable Present: A Fourteen Year Survey of Paintings by Duane Slick.”
K Art is owned and founded by Dave Kimelberg, a Seneca Nation of Indians member, attorney and entrepreneur. “Historically, museums are the primary platform for native artists, but the number of shows dedicated to contemporary Native American art is very small and the number of artists featured in these shows is even smaller. We intend to focus on promoting these artists whose stories have not previously been told in the way they deserve to be,” Kimelberg said.
Slick said the gallery represents a different type of initiative. “In the past, shows were organized by groups of individuals and funded through indigenous sources. It was a grassroots kind of thing. Being native-owned is what distinguishes it from other efforts.”
Slick still keeps in touch and visits family in Iowa, although visits been curtailed by the pandemic. He also is working with the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls for a show in October 2021.
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